Sunday, November 18, 2012

Homework Still Has a Place in Our School

I’ve never written a blog before, and never really thought of myself as the kind of person who would…so give the math teacher a little forgiveness on the writing thing.  I left our meeting feeling like I am probably going to be one who will need to make the case that homework still has its place. I did read the “Overall Goal for Extended Learning” that Mr. McNeff provided and so I knew that the discussion was going to be about “removing homework”, but it was still disconcerting.

Let me preface this by saying I completely believe HW should be used to improve learning, not to just keep students busy. I do not think that HW is used in the same way in elementary school as it is used in high school. I do not think HW is used in the same way in history class as math class. Also, I’d love it if we could think of HOMEwork as any sort of daily practice. I could care less if it happens at home, in the classroom, in study hall, or on the bus ride home. I just want to see kids practicing what they heard and saw every single day. So here goes, this is why I think HW still has a place in our schools:

1)      Homework encourages at least a degree of parent involvement and support. When my fourth grade son brings home a paper to finish now and again, it keeps us in the loop of what he is working on. We all know that the question, “what did you learn at school today”, can be met with little more than a shrug, grunt or the illuminating “nothing”. So when he has to finish a science review or math paper, it gives us an opportunity to extend his learning. We pointed out the flood in Minot as an example of a dike when he studied that in social studies vocabulary. When he was doing the parts of a plant, we asked him to show it on the houseplant. The more he discusses the ideas and thinks about their application, the more easily he remembers the material.

2)      Do not eliminate this conversation from the parents and kids who want to have it. I know what you are thinking, it is not fair to the kid who doesn’t have parental support. What I don’t understand about that argument is that you are sacrificing the learning opportunity for all just because some do not have the support. Better, to do as the elementary teachers spoke of doing. You can pick up signals quite early about the ones who do not have parental support and work to address that, rather than delete all outside of class work entirely. I would rather talk to Student No Parent Support and work out a time that we can work together than eliminate learning opportunities for the entire group.

3)      Homework is necessary in college bound classes. If I am to prepare my college bound students I do need them to spend time outside of class working on the material. Even with Common Core and choosing target standards, there is still a lot of material to cover and, at least with math, students need a little time to chew on the ideas and digest the material. I know that for our algebra II, trigonometry, statistics, computer programming, and senior math, we will require additional time for the students to practice this type of complicated and higher level thinking material.

4)      Homework does teach students time management, prioritization, and yes, responsibility, which are HUGE life skills.  I rarely have trouble getting my juniors to work on algebra II. Yes, it is a lot of work, but the grand majority get that you have to practice to truly understand the multi-step processes and the how and why discovery that you need to have success at this level. I have students who really struggled with homework completion as freshman, but mature to it as juniors and can reflect back on their past class with the knowledge that the tests would have been so much easier if they had practiced the material more. I expect more out of my juniors than my freshman. My freshmen always get at least 15 minutes to work in class, and even on a tough day, they would likely only spend another 15 minutes on it. If they are spending more than that, they should come see me and clear up the problem. No one should sit and spin on homework for hours and hours every night. Once in a while something will throw us all a curve ball, but my advice is to come see me. Clear it up early because math is highly cumulative. My juniors, on the other hand, get less in-class work time and it is very dependent on what material we are working on. But, just as they don’t struggle with the idea of doing homework, my juniors also struggle less with coming in for help. They know themselves better and know to come in when they need it. The students who continue to struggle on tests in algebra II are the ones who do not practice the material and do not come in for help when they need it. There is a VERY clear correlation between student practice and test success in math. It is a rare student who can just watch me do it at the board and perform well on the test.

So that’s it, that's why I think HW still has a place in our schools. I’m all for some great idea on how to differentiate it and vary the application, but I am not going to be easy to convince for its removal all together.

1 comment:

  1. I am in agreement that homework has a place, but the idea of balance came up quite a bit in our first class. My goal is not to remove homework entirely but to encourage reflection on the topic. Differentiation and variation is what I am hoping to accomplish.